Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Holly Black on readergirlz!

This month, the fabulous Holly Black is the featured author on the readergirlz web site! Holly Black is the author of a series of modern urban faerie tales, which includes Tithe, Valiant, and her newest book, ironside. This is a great series; fascinating and mesmerizing, but very dark and definitely not for kids! You can read my reviews by clicking on the book names above. Holly Black is also the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, which is a series for children and which will be released as a movie in February, 2008.

Readergirlz is particularly highlighting Black's newest novel, ironside. As with all the readergirlz features, this one includes a "while-you-read" playlist, a community challenge that relates to the book, an interview with Black, discussion questions for your book group, a book celebration guide, and more. You can also chat with Holly Black on Thursday, August 23rd, 7 PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern. Readergirlz really makes reading fun! Click here to go to readergirlz.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Finished it (no spoilers)

We finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last night. I'm not going to review it or say much about it, because I know that people are still reading it, but I do want to say that it was, in many ways, even better than I thought it would be. It was certainly different than I expected, but overall better, and I am totally in awe of Rowling's skill at plotting. She's an amazing writer, and I'm sad that it's over.

I'm saving all my specific comments for the discussion group in August/September at the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. I hope that you'll all join the discussion; I have a lot to say, and I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's comments, too!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Dark Dreamweaver lovin'

More great reviews of my husband's book, The Dark Dreamweaver have been posted:

Edwyne Rouchelle at curled up with a good kid's book said: " This is storytelling that takes us back to a time when there was real wonder in a fantasy world without the need for science-fiction based contraptions. I will wager that it will keep the young - as well as the young at heart - riveted and spellbound from beginning to end." Read the entire review

Devyn at The Faerie Drink Review said: "With a delightful array of characters The Dark Dreamweaver is a wonderful book for all ages." Read the entire review

The bloggers over at the Parent Bloggers Network have been reviewing The Dark Dreamweaver. Read what they're saying about it so far.

The Dark Dreamweaver is highlighted this week at Reader Views Kids; you can read their interview with author Nick Ruth.

Many thanks to everyone who has reviewed the book. If any bloggers would like a review copy, please email me at sruth@wandsandworlds.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review:: The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie Muldoon is gifted; he's advanced academically well beyond his peers. The orphanage where he lives won't allow him to go to an advanced school, but they do hire a tutor for him. Miss Perumal is more than a tutor; she's kind and understanding, and Reynie enjoys her company. She does her best to challenge Reynie, but he longs for more. He wishes that he could go someplace where he fits in, and where he can find real friends and real challenges. When Miss Perumal sees an ad in the paper for "special opportunities" for gifted children, she encourages him to apply. To qualify for the special opportunities, Reynie has to take a series of the strangest tests he's ever taken.

What Reynie finds at the end of the tests is more than he bargained for. He gains friends and finds challenges, but he also finds danger as he and his newfound friends are sent undercover on a secret mission. The fate of the world depends on Reynie and three other unusual children. Time is running out, and the four children must learn to work together before it's too late.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is an exciting and fun adventure with lots of surprises. Each of the children is gifted in a different way, and the unique way each one solves the tests highlights their different way of thinking and looking at the world. Gifted children especially will enjoy this book, not only for its variety of gifted protagonists, but for its creative wordplay, puzzles, and twists. Its audience isn't limited to gifted children, however, and ultimately the message is inclusionary: all the children on the team matter; even those whose talents aren't obvious are important to the success of the mission. The characters are interesting, and watching the four very different children learn to work together as a team is a delight. The pacing is good and keeps the reader hooked until the end.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Coming up for air

We spent the day today reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows together. Does that sound silly, reading it together? We started this journey together, reading the books out loud to David when he was 6, and so we wanted to finish the journey together, sharing the humor and the tragedies and the triumphs (hopefully) as the book revealed itself to us. So, we spent most of the day passing the book around, taking turns reading, with breaks for meals and other necessities. It's been a wonderful day, and we're enjoying the book so far.

The party last night at the The Red Canoe bookstore was a lot of fun. They 'sorted' the kids (of course) and had various classes. My favorite was divination, where we voted on various predictions (Will Harry die? etc) and then the kids used a crystal ball (a magic 8 ball wrapped in foil) to find out the answer.

But the best part of the evening was shortly before midnight when they led us out the front door of the bookstore and around the back, to the closed warehouse doors. At midnight, they asked us to all cast the Accio spell to summon the books. As we all shouted Accio together, the warehouse doors rolled up and they pushed out a table with the books artistically stacked on them. It was a fun way to present the books. Then we queued up to present our prepaid vouchers at the table and get our books!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Harry Potter day

Just a few hours to go until the witching hour in my time zone, and the book is already available in Europe. I'm off to a midnight party at The Red Canoe, a local independent bookstore in Baltimore. I wish all of you happy Harry Potter day and happy reading!

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

I don't remember exactly when I first read A Wrinkle in Time as a child, but I remember that it had quite an impact on me. I'd never read anything quite like it before. The young protagonist, Meg, who seemed so much like me, the fascinating characters, such as Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, and the journey through time and space to battle a terrifying evil, all captured my heart.

So when Square Fish (a Holtzbrinck imprint) emailed me to let me know that they were releasing a new edition of the Time Quintet series, and asked me if I wanted a review copy, I was thrilled to have a chance to revisit a special book from my childhood. I wasn't disappointed. The story itself is just as captivating as I remembered it and the message, about battling the forces that threaten our free choice and individuality, resonates just as much today as it did then, if not more so.

The new edition has lovely new cover art, an introduction by Anna Quindlen, an interview with Madeleine L'Engle, and a copy of L'Engle's Newbery acceptance speech. The interview is short and I wish it had brought out more background information, but it is interesting for what it reveals of L'Engle's personality. The Newbery acceptance speech is fascinating and well worth reading.

If you already have a copy of the Time Quintet books, the new editions probably aren't unique enough to justify a purchase. However, if you're looking to add this classic to your library, or if your own editions are getting tattered and need replacement, check out these new editions. I hope that the new editions will bring a new generation of fans to these books.

Here's an interesting interview with Madeleine L'Engle from Newsweek

Another Dark is Rising Post

I just can't seem to look away from this car wreck. Everything that I've read about The Dark is Rising movie seems to indicate that it's going to be a really bad adaptation. To add fuel to the fire, A Blog of Authors has posted a thorough, highly detailed comparison chart of the differences between the book and the movie, complete with sources for each of the items. If you haven't had enough pain, check it out here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Book Review: Three Grin Salad

Today, guest blogger Nick Ruth checks in with a review of Three Grin Salad, which was written by Aja King when she was ten years old.

Title: Three Grin Salad: A Kid’s Recipe for a Happy and Healthy Life
Author: Aja King
Illustrator: Lisa Taron
ISBN10: 0-9780710-1-8
Publisher: ICAN Press
Website: www.threegrinsalad.com

A musical group named Crosby, Still, Nash & Young used beautiful harmonies over 35 years ago, pleading that we “teach our children well.” Whitney Houston echoed that theme 15 years later asking that we “teach them well and let them lead the way.” Aja King’s parents obviously believe that “children are our future” as reflected in their 10-year old daughter’s first book, “Three Grin Salad,” which lays out a path to health and happiness in a way that can only be seen through a child’s eyes.

I will gladly admit that I found myself smiling as I read “Three Grin Salad.” No one likes a lecture, and Aja wisely keeps the focus on herself as she lays out the benefits of healthy eating and exercise accompanied by Lisa Taron’s colorful illustrations. I thought about spitting out my Twinkie® as I read her observation that if something in your food has a name so long you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

“Three Grin Salad” was an “Indie Excellence Book Award Finalist” and I can certainly see why. Aja sprinkles the text with whimsical recipes for growing up healthy and happy, including the recipe for the book title. These little recipes serve as nice breakpoints for each chapter, and I liked the fact that at the end of the book Aja includes thought-provoking questions and space to write your own answers as she “leads the way” with her words.

But all is not peaches and cream in the observations of a child. We all know exercise and good eating go hand in hand and it’s great to see a child take that lesson to heart and want to spread the word, but in some places I find that Aja" seems to have trouble believing what she is enthusiastically teaching. When she asks, "What makes fast foods taste so good? I can’t help but imagine that she isn’t craving some french fries as she picks at her salad, and I would respectfully disagree that children who enjoy computer time should give it up for outdoor activities. My son is about Aja’s age and has his fingers glued to a keyboard a lot of the time but he still likes to ride bikes, climb trees and scale rock walls. No single recipe can please every palate.

I can’t forget to mention the “Three Grin Salad” theme song, which can be found on her website www.threegrinsalad.com. A great little marketing gimmick that I think more books should explore. It’s one more way to put a grin on your face and get your toes-a-tappin’.

Aja’s book is a great introduction to good eating and exercise that will get your kids thinking about what they put in their bodies, how it affects them, and how they can make better choices. It’s amusing and instructive, and it’s hard to bring those two things together in one book. Aja has done it. Check it out.

* * *

Nick Ruth is my wonderful husband of over 19 years. He's also the author of The Remin Chronicles. Nick blogs about politics at purple-politics.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Book Review: Wildwood Dancing

Wildwood Dancing
by Juliet Marillier

Jena and her four sisters have a secret: every month at the full moon they travel to the Other Kingdom through a secret passage in their room. There, they spend the evening dancing and socializing with the various Folk of the Other Kingdom. It's a welcome release, but Jena knows that the Other Kingdom carries its own dangers, too. The girls keep themselves safe with a strict set of rules, and Jena is always on her guard.

Although the girls live in a world where women have little power, their father is unusual in his attitudes and treats the girls with respect and equality. Jena helps him keep the books for the business, and her sister Paula studies with the village priest. But when Father becomes ill, things are about to change for Jena and her sisters. Father must spend the winter in a warmer climate or risk death, and he leaves the girls, and particularly Jena, in charge of the home and business. But Jena finds herself in conflict with her cousin Cezar, who lives nearby. Cezar doesn't think that women should run a business or study intellectual pursuits, and he gradually begins to take charge of their affairs. Without Father to stand up to Cezar, the girls have no recourse.

Cezar blames the Folk of the Other Kingdom for his brother's death in the forest when they were children, and he is determined to destroy the forest and though it, the Other Kingdom. Meanwhile, Jena's older sister Tati is falling in love with one of the Night People, and Jena doesn't trust him. Jena is caught in the middle as she tries to save both Tati and the Other Kingdom and keep the girls' secret safe.

Wildwood Dancing got off to a slow start, and I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to read it. But by the time I was a couple of chapters into it, I was hooked and pretty much read the rest of it straight through. Although it's based on the story of the "Twelve Dancing Princesses," Wildwood Dancing is no fairy tale: it's a rich, complex story which explores themes of power, perception and forgiveness. Jena is a fascinating character with a complex personality. Although she is intelligent and strong-willed, she also makes mistakes, and those mistakes could have dangerous consequences. I wanted to slap her throughout most of the book, because I figured something out early on that it took her most of the book to find out. Cezar is also an interesting study in conflicts. Although you grow to detest him as the story progresses, you also feel sympathy for him. The other girls are less well developed and tend towards archetypes: the brainy one, the dreamy one, etc.

The book draws on Transylvanian folklore as well as some well-known fairy tales, and Marillier attempts to portray the Night People more in line with the traditional folklore rather than the modern conception of vampires. The book also touches on Transylvanian history and culture.

Wildwood Dancing is a beautifully written, exciting book that will appeal to teens who like exotic worlds, strong heroines, and a touch of romance.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Book Review: Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon

Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon
by Rick Yancey

Alfred Kropp thought that things would improve after he saved the world. But his life has only gotten worse: the only people he cared about are dead, he's stuck in a foster home, the kids at school torment him, and most people think he's either crazy or a criminal. But things are about to change. Two powerful artifacts have been stolen from the vaults of the secret organization OIPEP, artifacts that will allow the bearer to command the forces of the fallen angels of heaven. Alfred is once again drawn into the conflict, finding his life in peril at every turn. But it would be a lot easier to save the world if someone would tell him what's going on!

Get this book into the hands of your reluctant readers! Who can resist a story with both fast cars and demons from hell - and one with a teen driving a fast car at 250 MPH while being pursued by the demons from hell is even better!

Alfred Kropp is a fast paced, exciting book, but it also has a healthy dose of humor. I also like that Alfred doesn't have any special abilities. He's just an ordinary teen, who happens to be descended from Lancelot, but who is mostly just trying to do the best that he can in the situations in which he finds himself. He's a likable character, with courage and values but also a healthy dose of skepticism, which is understandable given the way people in his life have of using him.

This isn't a book for sensitive readers; there are a couple of gruesome and intense scenes, which is to be expected in a book about demons - they don't play fair, after all. But anyone else who likes an exciting fantasy set in the modern world will enjoy this book.

My only complaint about this book is that the cover is ugly! (I thought the same about the first book, as well.) I like the UK cover better.

Also read our reviews of the first Alfred Kropp book

Friday, July 13, 2007

Yes, it really is as bad as we feared

Last night we went to see the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie. One of the trailers that played before the movie was a preview for The Dark is Rising movie - and from the preview it looks like it's going to be as bad as we feared. I almost wouldn't have recognized it if they hadn't called the boy Will Stanton early in the preview. There was very little there that I recognized, although I admit it has been a few years since I read the books, and I don't have a good memory for details. There was this whole mall/security guard thing going on that made me think, "What the heck?" (And I thought that I read that in the movie Will was an American living in Britain - if so, why do the people in the mall speak with American accents?)

Even worse, the character of Will looks completely different. In the book, it always seemed to me that he had a depth to him even from the very beginning, that made it totally believable that he was an Old One. The Will in the movie trailer seems to be a gee whiz teenager who thinks it's really cool to be able to do magic stuff.

Looking at the trailer objectively, if I didn't know the book I'd think it looked like a pretty cool movie. Which, unfortunately, doesn't bode well. There will probably be enough people who haven't read the book going to see the movie that Fox Walden will feel vindicated.

View the trailer here and judge for yourself

Other The Dark is Rising movie posts:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interview: Shelly Mazzanoble

On Saturday, June 1, my son David and I interviewed Shelly Mazzanoble, author of Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game, at the Wizards of the Coast booth at BEA. Shelly was a delight to talk to, and she and David formed an instant rapport as they swapped D&D war stories. Shelly is funny and entertaining, and we greatly enjoyed talking to her. Also see my review of Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress

David: I guess here’s a classic question. What inspired you to write the book?

Shelly: I’ll tell you David. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I moved over to the publishing side of Wizards of the Coast. I work for Wizards of the Coast, obviously. I worked there for seven years. I knew Dungeons & Dragons existed. I knew what it was. I knew the sound of dice hitting the tables. I’d heard it. But I had never played it before. So I was invited to join a new group. I sit down, I roll up my character. I play my first game. And I was completely hooked. And I think, “This is so weird!”

I actually don’t consider myself to be what you might think of as the typical role player. I’m very girly. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I like to go shopping and I like to watch reality TV, and I do in fact have my nail polish in my refrigerator as we speak right now. And I play Dungeons & Dragons. And I love it! And, I thought, if more women actually knew what this game was really about, I think they would be into playing. Because it’s really what we do naturally.

Sheila: You seem to be actually trying to break down gender stereotypes in the book, but you also play a lot on the feminine stereotype, shopping, and such. Do you do that kind of do that intentionally as a way to...

Shelly: ...to reach out to women. Yeah. Obviously there are women who play Dungeons & Dragons. They don’t need a guidebook. But I’m thinking of people I know who are friends of mine. How am I going to explain this game to them? So, yeah, I did play into a lot of the stereotypes. But then again, I kind of am that stereotype. So, I think it would be different if, say, David, were writing the book for women and he was playing into all these stereotypes.

Also, in the character of Helena, I wanted to make a nod towards the women who have been playing role playing games already. I didn’t want them to feel like “I just discovered this game and I’m going to make it all pink and fluffy and the animals are so cute and all...” No, I know those women are out there and I have nothing but respect for those women who have already paved the way for other women to come in. And that character of Helena is a woman who is a role-player and who was sort of bothered by my sound effects and my, “I don’t want to shoot a dog...”

Sheila: Some parents worry that D&D is bad for kids because it’s too immersive or too violent. Do you have any thoughts on kids and teens playing D&D?

Shelly: When I started talking to teachers and librarians, that Dungeons & Dragons is actually a really really good learning tool for kids. You take a game of Dungeons & Dragons in a library. You have kids that are sitting around a table. They’re talking to each other. They’re interacting, they’re socializing, they’re problem solving. They’re using math skills. They’re using reading skills. They’re using writing skills. But that compared to...I have nothing against video games, but that compared to a video game which is just a very solitary experience, just using your computer screen. Even if you are interacting in World of Warcraft or Second Life,, even if you are interacting with other virtual people, you’re still by yourself.

David: When you’re playing D&D, have you noticed a difference in how it is after you’ve been playing it for a while.

Shelly: Well, I was definitely more timid when I first started playing. Well, I was level 1 for one thing, and couldn’t do all that much. I was absolutely terrified that my character was going to die. Now that I have more confidence in the game, I have more confidence in my group, I’ve seen Astrid go into battle and come out relatively unscathed, so I feel like I can put her out there a little bit more. But I’m still a little nervous, mostly because it’s so hard to roll up another character.

Sheila: I think you’ve already answered this question, but do you prefer playing or do you prefer dungeon mastering?

Shelly: Oh, I prefer playing. I’m definitely more of a player.

Sheila: Has playing D&D with your coworkers changed the way you interact with them at work?

Shelly: Yes, it has actually. We’ve become so much closer. There was one cleric, he put a spell on me that he would take most of my damage. And I thought, “You know, that could be the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.” And now, every time I work with him and if he asks me for something. I would be like, “Deadline deadline deadline! I need to get this in,” and then I think, “Oh, for you, who are going to take half my damage, I’ll get you that image. “ We’re all very close at work.

Sheila: OK, let’s get philosophical. How is life like Dungeons & Dragons? Or is it?

Shelly: I think it is. And I think it goes along with what I sort of touched on about women and Dungeons & Dragons. Like I say in the book, when women are growing up, and probably boys too, to an extent, we played make-believe all the time. We always played house, we played with our Barbies, we played with stuffed animals. And then as you get a little bit older you're playing Truth or Dare, you’re playing Would You Rather. And that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is all about. It’s storytelling, embellishing. It’s getting together with your friends. And I think most importantly it’s really watching out for your friends. It’s protecting your friends. And I that’s the one part that I really like about it.

Sheila: But you’re right. The social aspect is really what makes it.

Shelly: It is!

Sheila: It’s interacting in a way that I guess you don’t feel free sometimes to interact in real life, because you’re not yourself.

Shelly: Exactly! Yes, you do have kind of a creative license. Astrid does all sorts of things that I would never do. I’m horrible in crisis! If I saw somebody fall down right now, I would run away. “No, I don’t want to see anyone hurt!” But you can’t really be that in Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, I’m not good at that. I should never be someone’s person to call in case of emergency!

Sheila: We really appreciate your talking to us. It was great to meet you.

Shelly: It was great to meet you, too!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

While waiting for Harry, part 3

As you might expect, with only 10 days and a few hours to go until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, our household is immersed in Harry. Last week, my husband reviewed two Harry Potter-related books as a guest blogger, and I reviewed another one. Today, I have a review of another:

Muggles and Magic: An Unofficial Guide to J.k. Rowling and the Harry Potter Phenomenon
by George W. Beahm

Whereas many of the other books look at the content of the Harry Potter books, with analysis and speculation, Muggles and Magic takes the external view and looks at the Harry Potter phenomenon itself. Muggles and Magic is a collection of short essays on all things Harry, from a biography of J.K. Rowling to a look at the making of the movies. The final section is a thorough coverage of the Harry, Carrie, and Garp event last August at Radio City Music Hall, where J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Irving did readings and answered questions to raise money for charity.

If you enjoy Behind the Music or those "Making of" specials, you'll probably enjoy Muggles and Magic. It's packed with all kinds of interesting information about the history and social impact of the Harry Potter phenomenon, as well as about its amazing creator, J.K. Rowling. Because everything is presented in short, independent essays, this is a book that you can dip into or flip around and read the parts that interest you. It's a great bathroom book or book to carry with you for waiting in lines or at doctor's offices. It's also a book that will annoy your family, as you repeatedly read excerpts to them: "Hey, did you know..." or "It says here that..."

Some of the essays are outdated; "The J.K. Rowling Story," for example, was obviously written just before the publication of Order of the Phoenix. Other essays have been updated and contain fairly recent information. The outdated essays are a little disconcerting, but are still worth reading for the interesting information they contain. In general, this is a book that will be interesting to read even after the release of Deathly Hallows, because most of its information doesn't depend on the content of the last book.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Book Review: The Penguins of Doom (From the Desk of Septina Nash)

The Penguins of Doom: From the Desk of Septina Nash
by Greg R. Fishbone

Either Septina Nash has a vivid imagination, or she is a magnet for strange happenings. How else to explain the disappearance of her triplet sister Sexta, the penguins stalking her, and the attacks by her mortal enemy, Doctor Fignizzi? Through her letters to teachers, guidance counselors, family members, and the police missing persons department, Septina documents her search for Sexta, her battles with Doctor Fignizzi, her olympic skateboard training, and her attempt to find a suitable romantic match for her math teacher.

The Penguins of Doom is a humorous, playful, and fun story with lots of preteen appeal. Septina's voice is what really makes the book enjoyable: she's smart, sassy, and has a delightfully refreshing attitude, whether she's berating the police for not being as good at finding people as Canadian Mounties, or questioning why the school counselor wants her to fix his door when he says it's "always open." The Penguins of Doom is an easy, fun read that has plenty of surprises as it rollicks along towards the climax.

The official release date for The Penguins of Doom is today, the triply lucky day of 07/07/07. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen delays, the book isn't actually available yet, but it should be soon. See author Greg Fishbone's post on the subject.

Friday, July 06, 2007

While waiting for Harry, part 2

We're now just a couple of hours shy of two weeks until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,, and today I'm reviewing another Harry Potter-related book. Earlier this week, my husband reviewed two other books about the Harry Potter series.

Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader
by John Granger

In Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, John Granger evaluates the Harry Potter books in terms of five different concepts, or "keys":
  • Narrative misdirection: how Rowling uses the third person limited view to trick the reader and create the surprise endings,
  • Literary alchemy: Rowling's use of images and concepts from alchemy throughout the books
  • The hero's journey: the repeated elements and patterns that the books follow, and where the books deviate from those patterns,
  • Postmodern themes: how Rowling, as a product of her time, writes the books from a postmodern perspective, and
  • Traditional imagery: Rowling's use of transcendent symbols and how that interacts with her postmodern view

After explaining the five keys, Granger then uses them to offer an explanation of what really happened in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and give predictions of what might happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Unlocking Harry Potter is both a fascinating and a frustrating book. Fascinating, because the ideas he presents are thought provoking, but frustrating because it can't seem to decide what kind of book it wants to be. In language and ideas, it's written like a scholarly work, but the tone seems to be aiming for a general audience. I think that Granger is trying to bridge the gap and appeal to both audiences, but I suspect that it won't completely satisfy either. The cute names (such as Quirrelldemort or Vapormort) and simplified explanations will most likely be annoying to a scholarly audience, yet the language is at times so dense that non-scholarly readers will have difficulty reading it.

In addition, Granger has a frustrating way of bringing up concepts without explaining them, and then referring the reader to some other work for an explanation. Obviously, in some cases, a full explanation of these concepts would be far too lengthy for a book like this, but any concept mentioned should at least have a brief explanation before referring the reader elsewhere for more information. To bring up a concept and give no explanation is to leave the reader hanging.

In spite of these flaws, however, I found the book fascinating, stimulating, and engaging. The fact that I dreamed about it shows how thoroughly I was engaged by it. And while the language is dense and difficult to understand in some places, in other places Granger gives perfectly wonderful explanations, such as his clear explanation of postmodernism using of the movie Sky High as an example. Unlocking Harry Potter opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the books, and while I don't agree with all of Granger's conclusions - I think his explanation of what really happened on the astronomy tower is much too complicated to be true - his arguments are compelling, and I think that he may be right on many points.

Unlike some of the books about the series, Unlocking Harry Potter has a potential shelf-life beyond July 21, 2007. Although Granger does indulge in speculation, some of which will most likely be wrong, much of the book will still be relevant after the conclusion to the series is revealed. Although his predictions may turn out to be wrong, his "keys" will still provide a framework for understanding and evaluating the series. In fact, I hope that after all the secrets have been revealed, Granger will release a new edition of the book, revised as strictly an evaluative work without the predictions.

For anyone willing to put some effort into understanding it, Unlocking Harry Potter is a fascinating and eye-opening way of looking at the Harry Potter books, and well worth reading.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

While waiting for Harry, part 1

With only about 2-1/2 weeks to go until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, excitement is building and speculation is rampant. While waiting for Harry Potter, you may want to read one or more of the plethora of books offering analysis, commentary, and predictions about the Harry Potter series.
Today, guest blogger Nick Ruth discusses two such books:

Title: MuggleNet.Com’s What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love and How Will the Adventure Finally End
Authors: Ben Schoen, Emerson Spartz, Andy Gordon, Gretchen Stull, Jamie Lawrence with Laura Thompson
ISBN10: 1-56975-583-3
ISBN13: 978-1-56975-583-9
LOC: 2006907934
Publisher: Ulysses Press

Title: The End of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries That Remain
Author: David Langford
ISBN10: 0-765-31934-9
ISBN13: 978-0-765-31934-0
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC (TOR)

There are many ways to identify a classic work of literature such as bestseller lists, awards, Amazon.com ranking, and blogworthiness and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series certainly measures up in all these areas. How many books actually beget hundreds of other books whose sole purpose is to treat the source material like sacred texts, examining every word and scene for hidden meanings and deep philosophical underpinnings? The members of that group would be very small but I think Harry Potter fits in very nicely with the likes of the Bible and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and while the first six books generated plenty of high flying discussions, it is the 7th book titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that has kicked in the literary afterburners.

How does a fan of the series prepare for the sure to be exciting conclusion? A real fan rereads the first 6 books ( over 2800 pages) timing the last book so that the last page is read while standing in line at midnight on July 21st, 2007 when book 7 is unveiled. The two books above (410 pages) invoke their own divination spells to save the reader the heavy lifting and summarize the main plot points, while attempting to mind meld with J.K. Rowling and guess how the story will conclude. MuggleNet’s What Will Happen (WWH) and The End of Harry Potter (EHP) are literary detective novels, and while there are some similarities in their conclusions, the paths they follow are very different.

The first thing that struck me when reading these books was the tremendous amount of planning that J.K. Rowling has put into her plot, and the second thing that struck me was the tremendous amount of effort that has been expended trying to unravel those plans by WWH and EHP. Every plot point raises dozens of questions. Did Snape kill Dumbledore on the tower? Was it really Dumbledore? Is Dumbledore one of the living dead? Why does the killing curse fling Dumbledore off of the tower? Both books explore these questions and so much more that I have begun to wonder how J.K. Rowling keeps it all straight in her mind.

The MuggleNet team has been at this game for many years and puts together all the clues in a very easy to read book that lives up to its title. The authors examine each of the major characters in the series and most of the minor ones and provide all the major clues to support their theories on what will happen to them in Book 7. Who will live and who will die? It’s all here but it’s almost maddening as you read this book to make a decision for yourself. I found myself nodding my head in agreement as the book argued for a particular point of view, and then found myself nodding again as it argued the opposite point of view. The book argues that there are no easy answers and that J.K. Rowling wants the reader to walk the halls of Hogwarts with Harry Potter. I think I’m ready for Book 7.

The End of Harry Potter is a little bit more puzzling to read as it doesn’t seem very interested in how the series will end. David Langford takes a much broader view of the Harry Potter universe and examines the clues as literary devices. EHP was not as enjoyable to read, and although the author tries hard to keep the prose light and funny, I found myself skimming through it looking for interesting insights. EHP touches on many of the same areas as WWH like Horcruxes, curses and patronuses but it’s a struggle to read when you’re dealing with chapter subtitles like ‘The Wonder of Onomastics’ or ‘Infodumps and McGuffins’.

Both of these books will prime the reader for Book 7 and both of them will make you want to read the whole series again, but to my mind the MuggleNet book is the is the one to get and it will be a lot of fun to compare the predictions with the true outcome when the Deathly Hallows ties up all the loose ends. My predictions: A great read and Voldemort dies.

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Nick Ruth is my wonderful husband of over 19 years. He's also the author of The Remin Chronicles. Nick blogs about politics at purple-politics.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 02, 2007

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm: Once Upon a Crime

Once Upon a Crime
The Sisters Grimm, book 4
by Michael Buckley

Puck was seriously injured in the battle with the Jabberwocky, and Sabrina, Daphne, Granny Relda, and Mr. Canis take him to New York City to get help from Puck's family in the Faerie Kingdom. The Faerie Kingdom is full of surprises; it resembles the mob, including fairy godfathers who carry wands in violin cases. The Grimms are taken prisoner by the fairies, and then become embroiled in a murder investigation and fairy kingdom politics. Even worse in Sabrina's eyes is the discovery that her mother was involved with the Everafters; her mother's secret life threatens to destroy Sabrina's cherished memories of her "normal" life before the Everafters.

Michael Buckley was a stand-up comic before he was a writer, and it shows in his writing. The Sisters Grimm books are funny, and this one is no exception. From the six dwarves running the subway to Cinderella's Fairy Godmother as a washed up, tacky fashion designer, Buckley's characterizations of the fairy tale characters in the modern world is hilarious. There's plenty of excitement, too, between the murder investigation, the search for the Scarlet Hand, and run-ins with various monsters and villians. The character of Sabrina is developed more in this book, and even Puck experiences some growth. Don't worry, though: he's still the Trickster King.

The Sisters Grimm books are light, fun reading perfect for the beach. Fans of The Sisters Grimm series will enjoy this book; anyone who hasn't read the series will probably want to start with The Fairy-Tale Detectives.

Read the transcript of our Michael Buckley author chat

Buzz or hype?

A few hours ago, a commenter who identified himself only as "nick" left a comment on my post about The Dark is Rising movie. In my post, I had expressed concern about the changes made to the movie, leaving very little of the original story intact. "nick" expressed his opinion that the movie would be bigger than the book. Fair enough. He's entitled to his opinion, and unfortunately, he could be right.

But then "nick" gushed about a new MTV reality show about the lives of six interns on The Dark is Rising set, including a link to the MTV web page about the show. Something about his post set off alarm bells in my head; my first thought was that it was an attempt on the part of either the movie marketing people, or more likely, MTV, to artificially generate buzz for the movie or the reality show. When I read that J.L.Bell has had similar comments on his The Dark is Rising posts, I felt fairly certain that this is a marketing stunt.

"nick" has since responded to my cynical reply to his comment, expressing his outrage that I doubted him. He claims to be a movie critic, but his poorly written posts and anonymity seem to belie that. But, I could be wrong. He could really be a movie critic, or a teen excited about the new movie and related reality show.

If it is a marketing stunt, though, it's likely to backfire on them. I believe that teens today, having grown up in a marketing-saturated environment, are sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between real buzz and marketer-generated hype.

I'm curious: has anyone else had similar comments posted on your blog?

You can read my discussion with "nick" in the comments at this post.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Book Review: Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress

Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game

by Shelly Mazzanoble

Shelly Mazzanoble had heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but like most people who have never played the game, she thought that D&D was played in dank basements by social outcasts wearing dark cloaks. So when she started working for Wizards of the Coast and was convinced to give D&D a try, she approached her first game with trepidation. What she discovered is that D&D is an enjoyable way to spend an evening. It didn't take long for her to get into the spirit of the game and to discover her inner sorceress.

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress serves as both encouragement for the hesitant, and a gentle introduction to the game. It's an entertaining and humorous look at the game, with anecdotes from Shelly's excursion into D&D interspersed with simple, easy to understand explanations of the basics. If you're curious about Dungeons & Dragons, but unsure if you want to venture there, this book will get you started. Even if you aren't thinking of playing, but just want to know more, it's a fun book to read.

There are a few adult references in the book, so it's probably most appropriate for older teens and adults. Parents of younger teens and tweens may want to preread before giving it to their child.

Publication date: September, 2007

I interviewed Shelly Mazzanoble at BEA and will be posting the interview soon.